As a group of nations told we are better “pooling and sharing” – a term never quantified – we have come a long way from thinking we experience the occasional lapse of morals in public life, to realising the British state is wholly corrupt.
Like the days we boasted the BBC was the ‘best broadcaster in the world’, we like to think our other institutions are not like theirs, them being almost any country from Nigeria to the USA. A member of the British cabinet caught with some women of low repute and friendly with Soviet spies, ah well, no real harm done, he resigned. A cabinet member advocating greater taxes spent on armaments discovered to have direct links with a weapons manufacturer, well, he really ought to have made plain his business interest. Give him some time off and then rehabilitate him as a frontline politician for his party.
All governments like to pretend corruption is restricted to the odd bad apple. Indeed, it is good psychology for a corrupt state to throw one of their lot to the mob, a sacrifice, pretence the state is upholding honesty and the rule of law. It helps the population feel they live in a civilised, just country, with enough restrictions on personal greed and venality to keep corruption to a minimum. Demotion is the only punishment for the elite, maybe loss of a knighthood, or a fine, rarely imprisonment.
We can always set up an enquiry, have it take years to come to a conclusion, the political stink from its findings long evaporated, the culprits old and decrepit, worthy of our mercy in their old age.
In the last twenty years we have seen all that fly out the closet door. Where to begin?
Paedophilia in high places with the connivance of our espionage services; the sex crimes of the Catholic church; newspapers paying police to supply salacious details of people in the public eye; police doctoring their reports; industrial levels of phone hacking; MPs false and excessive daily expenses claims; embellishing documents to convince the nation we should invade another’s country; falsification of election expenses; unexplained assassinations of troublesome journalists; massive tax fraud by individuals and company bosses exploiting off-shore banks in protectorates governed by the UK Treasury; Treasury officials advising corporate entities how to avoid tax; banks stealing from clients by issuing useless insurance policies, money laundering, and squandering pension savings – no banker jailed; academic institutions accepting largesse from dictators and corporate business; aiding USA illegal wars and invasions; rendition flights and torture; the bonus culture corroding everything; drug taking in sport – there’s more, and it doesn’t include the biggest heist in human history, the theft of trillions from the public purse to prop up the criminality of corrupt banks.
We are not like them
Great Britain isn’t so great after all, not in the sense of clean and pure, a nation so honest we can enjoy the luxury of an open society. British society is dishonest, venal, and unscrupulous. One man who knows Britain is as corrupt as the boils on a syphilitic scrotum is the celebrated Italian author Roberto Saviano.
Like myself (part-Sicilian) he can smell a scumbag the other end of Princes Street in a thunderstorm. Saviano has spent a large chunk of his professional life exposing the murderous criminal underworld of the Italian Mafia, nevertheless he believes that Britain is the most corrupt country in the world.
When you have spent a lot of your time investigating the rotten core of the Mafia you know a thing or two about corruption and how it operates. If you are amassing stolen money you need a place not only to stash it, but to gain access to it when needed. That’s called a bank.
The author of international bestsellers Gomorra, and ZeroZeroZero, the former made into an international film, has lived under police protection since publically denouncing members of the Camorra, a powerful Neopolitan organised crime syndicate, in 2006.
His book is a first-hand, non-fiction analysis of how organized crime controls everything in his native region. There’s no aristocratic Mafia ‘Godfather’ family mixing with normal society, only a series of thugs and killers stealing money from the poor and dishing out summary torture or killings.
Savanio’s book was the result of months of direct contact with the people who keep the System – the gangsters themselves refuse to use the word Camorra, which can be considered the local version of the Sicilian Mafia – and became a huge success. Saviano received multiple death threats from the people he’d exposed. Today he is forced to live with a permanent police escort. It isn’t tawdry to suggest Westminster’s threat of withholding a share of the pound sterling from an independent Scotland carried a similar Mafioso overtone – do as we tell you or your family won’t get protection.
Gomorra walked away with the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. To see it is to witness the same raw, in-your-face visual style as City of God. You’re thrown into a new, intimidating world of winks, and nods, and beatings, and lonely, ritual deaths.
Saviano made a rare historic appearance at the Hay Literary Festival flanked by several security guards. He warned the audience in Hay-on-Wye that financial institutions were allowing ‘criminal capitalism’ to thrive through offshore holdings. [My emphasis.]
He also warned a vote to leave the European Union would leave Britain even more exposed than now to organised crime. That’s not counsel I’d ignore lightly. Saviano knows of the connections between British corruption and Italian, including the Vatican.
“If I asked you what is the most corrupt place on Earth you might tell me well it’s Afghanistan, maybe Greece, Nigeria, the South of Italy. I will tell you it’s the UK,” he said.
“It’s not the only bureaucracy, it’s not only the police, it’s not the politics, but what is corrupt is the financial capital. Ninety per cent of the owners of capital in London have their headquarters offshore. Jersey and the Cayman’s are the access gates to criminal capital in Europe and the UK is the country that allows it.”
“That is why it is important, why it is so crucial, for me to be here today to talk to you because I want to tell you, this is about you, this is about your life, this is about your government.”
When you allow a few individuals to amass great power and wealth they pay others to protect it, and that includes politicians. They in turn will use unethical methods to enforce their will. The mega-rich grow used to wealth and want to keep it, at all costs.
Saviano had a few things to say about leaving the EU too.
“Leaving the EU means allowing this to take place. It means allowing the Qatari societies, the Mexican cartels, the Russia Mafia to gain even more power. HSBC bank has paid £2 billion Euros in fines to the US government because it confessed it had laundered money coming from the cartels and the Iranian companies. We have proof, we have evidence.”
Writers as Public Enemy Number 1
Saviano first started writing about organised crime in Italy in the early 2000s following the death of his local priest who had written an essay criticising the dealings of the Camorra. The death threats against Saviano led to a public outcry from fellow writers, including six Nobel laureates including Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Orphan Pamuk, who warned the Camorra were becoming a threat against security and public order. Signatures were also collected on the web site of the Italian newspaper La Republica calling for the government to protect him.
Saviano said: “I was 26 years old when I got myself into this situation and I could not imagine that it would end like this because many books have been written on the Mafia, but it was my book that made them so angry. I was telling real facts, I was naming names. My life is unique. I am followed by two bullet proofed cars and by more than five officers and that brings about a feeling of guilt sometimes because you exposed yourself too much, you were not cautious enough.”
A better society
At this point in his narrative I began to think of the better society we hoped to fashion in Scotland, a small country like Iceland or Norway, its government and institutions easily held to account if corruption dared to breathe.
“The freedom of expression that you enjoy is not to be taken for granted and there is always somebody who fights for it and if it’s not you it’s somebody else in your place. I consider myself lucky that I was not killed. When you start telling these stories you know that your life is at stake, you know you might be killed, but what scares you the most is defamation.”
I was reminded of the whistle blowers and Edward Snowden in particular, how they do us all an invaluable favour and are estranged from us by the political elite as a warning. And that had me thinking of England’s rotten politics. The Mafia here? No. Never. Then I remembered God’s banker Roberto Calvi hanging by the neck under London’s Blackfriars Bridge. Somebody had taken care of business.
There are times I wish somebody towed England out into the Atlantic Ocean and scuttled it, but I know it would pollute the seas.